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Meet English Teacher, the Leeds group delivering endlessly inventive guitar music

By refusing to pigeonhole their sound, English Teacher have captured the ears of music lovers - including one Jools Holland.

By Nick Reilly

English Teacher (Picture: Tatiana Pozuelo)

On ‘Mastermind Specialism’, the latest track from Leeds rockers English Teacher, the group employ woozy guitars to tackle what singer Lily Fontaine describes as “decision paralysis”.

 “It’s an ache that has murmured in me through sitting on smaller fences, through to questioning my theology, my sexuality, my career and so on,” she recently said.

Since emerging in late 2020, the group – which also consists of guitarist Lewis Whiting, drummer Douglas Frost and bassist Nicholas Eden – have tackled lofty themes like these by blindsiding audiences with an untold number of influences. Leftfield art-rock, psychedelia and heavier rockier numbers, as shown on 2021’s breakout ‘R&B’, are all part of their repertoire.

Now, with a debut EP under their belt, it feels like the future of guitar music is theirs for the taking.

2023 has felt like your breakout year. You’ve released your debut EP Polyawkward and we’ve just had ‘Mastermind Specialism’, your latest song. How’s the year been for you?

Lewis: A whirlwind to say the least, I actually keep thinking about the stuff we’ve done this year and it feels like it was last year but I think that shows how busy we’ve been. That it feels like it’s lasted for years. It’s all a bit of a blur. A very overwhelming but exciting blur.

Douglas: It’s been fun! Fucking well fun.

Have you managed to take stock of what’s gone on? Acclaimed releases and even an appearance on Later… with Jools Holland.

Lily: Yeah and I think that helps, because consciously we get wrapped up in thinking we could better and comparing ourselves to other artists. But then you stop and think we’re playing Jools Holland! It’s OK!

Douglas: I really need to start writing a diary. I’ve only done one diary entry for the past 18 months and that was like the morning after we filmed Jools and I did like a big diary thing. But the thought’s there!

How was Jools himself? He’s got a real reputation for championing new artists.

Douglas: He was so lovely, way more reserved than I was expecting. But in a good way, I think. He came over to us and seemed really excited to have us on and that excitement seemed very genuine.

Lewis: For us, it *is* still weird when there’s this person off the telly and they’re actually just normal and nice! You don’t always expect that.

You first formed in 2020, which is quite an achievement. Forming a band and coming together at a time when any kind of communal activity seemed like the hardest thing possible…

Lily: We’d met at uni and had the foundations of the group before, but they were quite splintered. I think the pandemic was our opportunity to really reconsider what we wanted from this group and take it down a new route, I think.

Douglas: It didn’t fall apart during the pandemic, but when Covid hit and Lily moved out of Leeds, me and Nick were finishing our degrees and I got a job in caring and I was kind of happy with that, to go on and do nursing or something similar. I did feel a bit done with music, but then Lewis joined and suddenly it felt way more cohesive, we got on quite well and then we wrote R&B quite quickly and then it all just sort of rocketed from there.

So was ‘R&B’, your 2021 single, the moment when it felt like things began to pick up?

Lewis: It was soon after I had joined and I remember walking home after we’d pieced that song together and being like ‘Shit, this is actually OK!’ We’ve all been in different bands, but this was the moment where it felt like there was suddenly room for something a bit more special.

It’s all too easy to slot English Teacher in as a post-punk band, but I know you’ve said that doesn’t necessarily reflect what you’re trying to achieve?

Lily: When we were writing ‘R&B’, I think that post-punk felt like it was still quite a niche thing for us to be categorised as. And we probably were trying to go down that route, but over the past few years we never went in and said this is the music we’re trying to make. Since we released ‘R&B’, we’ve been deciding what kind of music we want to make and every song we’ve written, we’ve come at it from a perspective of wondering what would be a cool sound. Our album shows that too and that’ll come when people hear it in the future. It’s definitely something we fit into, but it’s just such a broad term that doesn’t always apply to us.

But you all bring your own sounds and influences to the table?

Nick: Yeah we all have quite contrasting tastes in music, I think. But it usually starts with one of our ideas and then we either expand it together or someone else expands it and then they write lyrics for it and it kind of works like that.

Lewis: Yeah and I really liked that when I joined. It was never like there was a manifesto or an ‘oh, we’re gonna make a band that sounds like this. Which is a really good thing. I think I like the idea of us carrying on with that idea and it just kind of naturally just morphs into what we’re influenced by at the time.

Looking ahead to 2024, then, can we expect an album?

Lily: Well, we’re working on some of our biggest projects to date, like in terms of every aspect of this career, like shows wise, release wise. it’s, it’s looking like a very intimidating year.

Douglas: It is looming for me a lot! It does feel like a big wave and we’re about to take a big jump into it. Look, I feel knackered from touring for two weeks now. So fuck knows what it’s gonna look like when that comes around!